Sunday, December 25, 2016

Cheerful? Why yes!

On Gossamer Wings (2016) by Pants

Well 'tis the season for it. Although times are testing, to be sure. With 2016, the new millennium has turned into the most petulant of teenagers. The important thing, as any parent knows, is to try not to panic. To prepare for the worst, hope for the best and keep fucking smiling. How difficult can it be? Easy for me to say. I'm well cushioned against future shocks. It's taken many years of practice and discipline to reach the comfort and satisfaction I now enjoy as well as some preemptive sacrifices and a fair bit of swimming against the tide. All things considered, life is good.

What if someone told you the secret to help you save money and the world, inoculate yourself against many of the ills of modern life and enjoy everything more on both the sensual and profound levels? 

So began an item on ABC Radio National's Life Matters. I don't normally listen to this drivel. Nor do I need the advice. It became necessary to plug my ears with something after I stumbled from the surf at Noosa Beach with my boogie board under my arm to find that the surf school had adapted my favourite spot under a clump of sheoak trees as a mobile classroom. After evicting a budding bombora buster from my neatly laid-out towel, I connected myself to some earphones and held my ground as the red-vested tyros learned how not to get smacked in the face with their malibus. And this is why I'm (mostly) cheerful. I'm always prepared when someone decides to chuck a Zed & Two Noughts at my Zen. I make sure the Zone is always within reach. Refusing to get annoyed at small, fleeting acts of cuntishness helps to ensure a speedy return to cheerfulness.

A 'secret' is what Australians call something that is so blindingly obvious that only a moron could miss it. Remember Rhonda Byrne? The key to happiness is to be satisfied with your lot and believe, like Scarlett O'Hara, that tomorrow is another day? A no-shit-Sherlock moment if ever there was one. Incredible as it may seem, a lot of people need instruction on how to live with the circumstances in which they reside, no matter how cushy. I generally find that the universe cooperates with me provided I keep my demands modest and infrequent. For people who seem incapable of intuiting the incontrovertible, there will always be a self-help book.

Turns out that I've been practising something called The Art of Frugal Hedonism for years. A new book with that title is the subject of the equilibrium-preserving interview. Annie Raser-Rowland, one of the authors, is the interviewee. The suggested frugality measures should come as no great revelation to anyone used to shoestring living. All the usual don'ts are present. Don't buy shit you don't need. Don't be lured by advertising into believing that your happiness depends on having the latest this or that. Don't focus on what you don't have. And the do's should be equally familiar. Do grow your own food. Do take advantage of facilities that are free - libraries, museums, forests, beaches. Do enjoy what you have and be grateful for it. Well, yes, yes, yes, yes. Only a tosser would live any other way.

Obviously, I haven't read the book. There may be more depth to it than this précis indicates. In the interview the author doesn't talk much about the hedonism bit, which is the more interesting aspect of the strategy. No sacrifice without reward, I say. Easy for me to claim success in this realm as I mostly live alone these days. Barney has taken up his new post at Trump Tower and TQW is more or less redundant since I've resolutely stopped trying to overlay logic on idiocy. They've both promised to be back in time for our annual Oscars party where we take hedonism to the limit of credulity. Here's a tip. Go super frugal on the news feeds and mega hedonistic on good old-fashioned arts and letters.

Saying that, the methodology is all well and good, but most people will spend most of their adult lives working. And that means they spend most of their time in a situation that they can't control. I've been in a very happy headspace since I stopped working for fuckwits and started working under my own direction. It was a good decision on my part. The pay sucks but my manager is a peach. I do not care about sucky pay so long as I'm happy doing what I do and don't have a psychopath standing over me. Having said that, when I did work I was always paid extremely well and, most of the time, it wasn't hideous work. Since the financial crisis of 2008 wage stagnation coupled with overwork and lack of purpose seem to have made work nigh intolerable for at least half the population of most western countries. Even in supposedly laid-back Australia. Not working can be financially challenging but working at something you hate for less money than you think you deserve has to be the pits. I've never had much money. Big amounts tend to come to me in windfalls. I've either saved it, travelled on it or made a big and vital purchase, like a car or a house.

To me, frugal hedonism means directing all of your resources, however meagre, into activity that is fulfilling, beneficial and, wherever possible, neither wasteful nor harmful. Good wine cheap from auctions. Luxury food from the 'reduced for quick sale' section of the supermarket. I'd dumpster-dive but around my way they lock the bins up. Growing crops that are expensive to buy - strawberries, tomatoes, aubergines, beans, garlic, salad greens and herbs. Knowing when the roadside walnut trees fruit and the best time and place to collect pipis for fettuccine alle vongole. And spending most of my time exploring worlds both internal and external.That's how I do it. I understand that not everyone is cut out for uncompromising independent living. If you have a strong need for company, it's probably not ideal.

There was one plank in my journey towards ultimate frugal hedonism that I've only recently set down. I've finally mastered the art of not giving a fuck. (Another book I didn't need to read as I'd been in training for it all my life.) Misha and I have been friends for forty-five years. Having lunch with him the other day, I realised that he has never, ever listened to a word I've said. I guess I must have known that all along, and simply internalised it. When I thought about it later, I realised that I don't mind. In fact, it's profoundly liberating. The thought that I can say anything to him and it won't penetrate. It used to really piss me off to be ignored. As a woman, I have had a lot of experience of being dismissed, ridiculed and seen my ideas blithely appropriated by men when it suited them. None of it matters. I don't know about saving the world, but I'm doing pretty well at saving me. That must count for something.

Of course, everything goes up the chimney at Christmas. I'm in Noosa, Queensland. Lounging on the best beach for elderly boogie boarding in the world, every day. Being lavishly supplied with tropical fruits. I never buy mangoes, pineapples or papaya at home. They're far too expensive and they only really taste good in the tropics anyway. Although every year the Pants family solemnly pledges to go light on the gifts, brightly coloured packages pile up under our 56-year-old cellophane tree. (It is truly frugal to have had the same artificial tree for almost one's entire life.) There will be (slightly) too much food. Years of me ranting at Ma Pants about waste finally bearing a little less in the way of perishables in her warehouse of a fridge. When I'm with others, especially family members, who are all extremely loveable, it's easy enough to relax and go with the flow. Although I do sneak out at 5am for a solitary jog with just an audiobook for company and I sometimes pretend I'm going down for a nap in the afternoons and do a bit of writing instead. Old habits, etc.

Now I hear Ma Pants stirring. Soon the rest of the family will be here. Better go. I wish you all the cheer that can be mustered and I will leave you with a fine thought from Ralph Waldo Emerson,

'Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants, and to serve them oneself?'

I think not.